Yaroslav Amosov, the Klitschko brothers and the fighters standing for Ukraine | ‘I just thought about defending my country’ | News News

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Bellator champion Yaroslav Amosov talks about fighting for Ukraine after the Russian invasion and finding his title belt which his mother had hidden before evacuating

Bellator champion Yaroslav Amosov talks about fighting for Ukraine after the Russian invasion and finding his title belt which his mother had hidden before evacuating

A year ago Russia initiated the largest invasion of a European country since the Second World War. Many Ukrainian athletes made an extraordinary choice. To leave their sport and their careers to serve on the frontlines. Yaroslav Amosov was one of them.

Amosov, a mixed martial artist, is the Bellator welterweight champion. He was due to defend his title against Michael Page, but withdrew to stay in Ukraine when war broke out.

“First you’re kind of in shock, it took us a couple of days to even realise what was going on,” Amosov told Sky Sports.

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A look at some of Amosov’s best moments in the cage

A look at some of Amosov’s best moments in the cage

“Once we figured out what was going on me and my friends and my family, we grabbed our wives and kids and elderly and anybody we could gather and got them to safety. Got them out of the warzone and then went back to fight.

“At the time that was the only thing that’s on your mind, which is to defend your country. It was back then and it still is now. For me that’s the most important thing. I wasn’t thinking about a fight I had lined up or belts, or any of that stuff. I was just thinking about defending my country against this obviously brutal occupation that Russia is imposing.

“I hope that this will end soon and we can all go back to normal life. But even to this day there’s things still going on. It’s not over.”

Amosov is from Irpin, the town that was at the centre of the Russian offensive until it was liberated.

He actually recovered his title belt from his home once the bombing there had ceased.

“Before my mum left the house and went out of town to safety, she hid the belt. And then obviously once the city got liberated, a couple of days later, I said I’m going to go back to my home and see if I can find it,” he recalled.

“You saw the video through the ruins, I found the belt and it was great to see. It was awesome to see it and now this belt is symbolic and it’s kind of part of history.”

For the first time since the war began, Amosov returns to competition on Saturday in Dublin to fight Logan Storley, who became Bellator’s interim welterweight champion in his absence.

“The people that are close to me, the only way they could get me away from all this fighting, they said, ‘Hey you have a chance to go and tell the world first-hand what is going on here’. That was my only motivation,” Amosov said.

“Obviously this is a very important fight. You have two champions, we’re unifying the belts. Especially with everything that’s going on it would be great to win this fight and take the belts back to my home country and my fans.”

His thoughts, of course, are still with Ukraine.

“The war’s still going on, a lot of people are still dying. A lot of my friends are still dying. I’m hearing news all the time. It’s very difficult to hear. But I have to stay focused and I have to prepare,” he said.

Amosov is from Irpin and remained in Ukraine during the invasion

“But at the same time it also makes you re-evaluate your life and just what people consider problems. I look at some of the people and what they consider problems, they don’t know what real problems are so I think it puts a lot of things in perspective.”

He added: “Right now I’m focused on this fight. I want to get past this fight and then I can’t wait to go back. I can’t wait to go back and see my family, see my friends and just be there. Be present. We know there’s a lot of difficulties, not just with military action but with lack of food and lack of power and people don’t have homes.

“It’s very difficult. It’s unbelievably difficult. Because it’s still going on. A peaceful, civil population is getting bombed, for no reason. Just because they just want to live there. They’re not doing anything they’re not harming anybody, these are just people that go to work, come from work and all of a sudden, a bomb hits a building and people are just dying.

“These are not military installations, these are civilian targets for no reason and nobody’s safe. Anywhere in that country they can throw a rocket, they can drop a bomb. They can do whatever they want and civilians are paying for it.

“It’s very difficult. It’s difficult to cope with. It’s difficult to understand what would compel a human being to do this to another human being that hasn’t done anything to them.”

Amosov now wants to represent his country through his sport

Athletes from other combat sports are also looking to represent Ukraine on the world stage. Boxing’s unified heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk is one of the most prominent.

“I really like what Oleksandr Usyk is doing. I think he’s spreading the right message in his interviews and his presence is very helpful to the country. I think he’s done a really good job,” Amosov said.

Ukrainian boxer Serhii Bohachuk is another example. His motivation is the same as Amosov’s.

“He’s from Lviv, he got special permission to get out of Ukraine, because he’s a world-class athlete, to resume his boxing career,” his promoter Tom Loeffler told Sky Sports. “Serhii Bohachuk just wants to keep the awareness of what’s going on over there in the country, the struggle that they’re in on a daily basis.

“He was literally there for six months during the war. His city was away from the fighting. But then when Russia started launching missiles the city centre was hit where there was a shopping centre and a number of people died, a lot more were injured.

Heavyweight champions past and present, Wladimir Klitschko and Oleksandr Usyk advocate for their country

“It’s one of those situations that’s so unpredictable with the missile strikes you don’t know what they’re going to target. It looks like they’re going after the infrastructure now but before there were schools that were shelled and hospitals,” Loeffler continued. “It’s unimaginable what the people are going through.

“Bohachuk decided, since his brother is in the military, that he would resume his boxing career and fight for his country that way.

“He left his family behind, his brother is in the military fighting, his mother is over there and the motivation that he has now to fight for his country has multiplied. He’s not only fighting for his career but fighting for his country and fighting for the flag of Ukraine.”

Loeffler worked with the Klitschko brothers during their boxing careers. The former heavyweight champions are major figures in Ukrainian society today. Wladimir Klitschko is one of the leading advocates for peace in Ukraine and Vitali Klitschko is the major of Kyiv during this time of war.

Both brothers were politically active during their boxing careers as well, dating back to their involvement with the Orange Revolution, the popular protest movement that changed Ukraine.

Vitali Klitschko is the mayor of Kyiv during this war (Associated Press)

“Vitali was one of those fighters, he would fight anyone. Would never back down from a challenge. You see what he went through with that whole revolution there in Kyiv and now going through the war that’s raging over there,” Loeffler said.

“He is the best person that I know to lead and motivate the people like that. It’s unimaginable that we’re seeing war in Eastern Europe right now.

“It’s really something that I think nobody could envision,” he continued. “Everything that I’ve heard of things that are happening over there is unimaginable.

“They etched their place in boxing history with Vitali being in the boxing Hall of Fame and Wladimir’s going to get into the Hall of Fame. Now leading their country in a whole different fight is something that you’re not really trained for.

“You can train for boxing, you can do everything to win in the boxing ring, but then when your country is invaded to have to defend your country, to have to motivate the people the way they are is a whole different battlefield.”

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